Blair Sankey will guide Bellingen?s return to Group 2 rugby league first grade competition this year.
Blair Sankey will guide Bellingen?s return to Group 2 rugby league first grade competition this year.

Sankey to lead Magpies

By MITCHELL DALE

IT WAS a few strokes past 5pm on Tuesday when Bellingen first grade rugby league captain-coach Blair Sankey and manager Matthew Nolan rocked up to the club's home ground to prepare for training.

With them they had the usual coach and manager equipment ? a bag of footballs, a few ideas for training drills and footy boots (although Matthew later realised he had two right

boots). Also packed in Sankey's Falcon sedan were some snags for a sausage sizzle and some ice to cool the refreshments.

Like most footy clubs, it's an old Bellingen tradition to have a sausage sizzle and a few beers after training on a Tuesday night, but this year that pastime has taken on greater significance.

Both Sankey and Nolan realise that moulding the players into a unit again after the club didn't field any senior sides last year is one of the most important steps as the Magpies try to get back on track in 2005.

But they are also confident that the Magpies can be competitive in their return season.

Sankey, a former NSW Residents representative, last coached in 2001 when he took the reins of Group 1 club South Grafton.

"I think this will definitely be a much bigger challenge," he said.

"The first night of training at South Grafton we had 60 blokes turn up.

"Our first night here there were about 12."

But since then the outlook has steadily got better for the black and whites.

"I can't believe how quickly it has built up," Sankey enthused.

"Every week it is getting better and better."

Sankey is hoping things can keep getting better for the club if it can lure a few more players to strap on the boots and have a run this year.

"There are a couple of people who are sitting on the fence at the moment and I'd like them to get off and come to training," he said.

"This is a building stage (for the club) ... I am starting with small goals, but they will lead to bigger things.

"We definitely want to be competitive and, the way things are rolling along, I think we will be.

"I'm sure we will be more competitive than most people think if we can get everyone on board."

Nolan, who played in the Magpies' last premiership-winning side in 1999, adds that getting all these players on deck is a 'Catch-22 situation'.

"We have some good local players who are waiting to see who the club gets before they get on board and there are other players who are waiting to see which local players we get (before committing to play)," Nolan said.

"But I think we will go alright if everyone turns up."

Unfortunately for the Magpies, many of their stars from last year's Under-18 premiership triumph have moved from the area. Fullback Chris Bruinsma is at Newcastle, halfback Chris Deers is on the Central Coast, impressive backrower Dan Tempest has headed north to Seagulls, while brothers Bo and Cody Taggart are both unavailable.

"I'd say most of those guys would have been blooded in first grade last year if we had a side," Sankey said.

"It would have been nice to have them here, but we have to let them chase their dreams.

"(But) two of last year's Under-18s, Tom Brunnekreef and Rhys Williams have been at training and Tom's fitness has been excellent."



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